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2018 - from doula to herbalist/birthkeeper and beyond

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

2018 - - it was a big year for our family, and for me. We moved. I turned 40. We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. But there was SO much more to 2018 than just those events. 2018 was a year of understanding pieces.

In 2017 I attended my last handful of births as a doula after recognizing that me being away unpredictably no longer worked for our family and that how I practiced as a doula – a birthkeeper really – was not in line with what those who hold the power in our culture expect or allow. I was still committed to being part of the birth world, and thought of myself as a doula on a long-term sabbatical. I was going to continue to learn and grow and contribute, just not IN the birth room until some future time when it worked again for our family. I tossed around the idea of co-creating a prenatal class, of building a substantial blog, of writing a book, of creating online courses.... 

I rebuilt my entire website on January 1st 2018 in line with all the above.

In March we decided as a family that Levi would learn best at home. We were pretty sure we were there back by Christmas 2017 but gave it one last (unsuccessful) try and finally made the move to home learning in 2018. We are not replicating school at home, but practice radical unschooling where we can follow Levi’s lead and meet his needs. It’s really the only way that works for him, and that’s not unusual for kids with PDA-Autism.


We celebrated my 40th birthday. Ok well truthfully on the 'day of' we mostly ignored it because it was too stressful for Levi, but after nudging from a friend we celebrated later. 40 is both a really big deal and no big deal at all. lol


After 10 years, 2 homebirths, and the 'birth' of Hedgecraft Herbals - - we listed & sold our house, bought a new house, and moved - - in a month. We had not been planning on moving. I mean eventually maybe but not this summer. Lol. But the right house came up at the right time and so it all came to be.

We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Much like my birthday, we mostly let this day slide because it happened in the midst of our move. But with nudging from a friend again, we celebrated later. In October we had an “Open House Warming” to mark my birthday, our anniversary, and the move to our new home all in one.


And then I took down the website I had just rebuilt on January 1. Hanging on to it was costing me money with no return, splitting my focus, and I realized that even though things like reflexology and yoga nidra were important to me, they meant committing to time away from my family and ultimately that doesn't work for us right now either. All my blog content for the most part shifted over to Hedgecraft Herbals but it’s a bit of hodgepodge still as I try to figure out how all these pieces fit together and how to incorporate everything into one business identity.

And that’s really what 2018 has been about for me - - recognizing that there is a ME who is more than the mere sum of parts I’ve put out into the world thus far. As the year has passed I've realized I no longer think of myself as many things which have been the cornerstone of my identity in the past. The pieces of myself that have been floating about at the edges for a few years now started to come together.

While this is a hard pill to swallow for many close to me, I no longer think of myself as a “Christian”, but as an omnist who sees that beauty and truth can be found in all religions, and whose spirit has been largely fed through the beauty of kundalini yoga (which is not a religion but is full of spirit) during this time of spiritual transition.

And I no longer think of myself as a doula - providing physical, emotional, and informational support to childbearing persons in pregnancy, birth, and early postpartum. I have used the term "birthkeeper" from Jeannine Parvati Baker for a few years now, and that seems to have grown larger than who I was as a doula - - if "doula" ever did really encompass my role. From my very first birth I defied the convention of what a doula was supposed to be. lol. I have strained at the definitions and the limitations intended to keep me silent and compliant in a system that ultimately harms instead of heals.

And for better or worse, I have also resisted the words others have used for me and the roles they've seen me in over the years. Sometimes with good reason. Often because I wasn’t ready to see in me what others saw in me.
I remember in Ghana, 20 years ago, people calling after me “Doc-tor? Mid-wife?” as they sought my help. It made me SO DEEPLY uncomfortable. I was not a doctor. Or a midwife. Just a white person with a well stocked first aid kit and a willingness to help if needed, but not wanting to overstep or dishonour the healing gifts held locally and not wanting to mislead or get in over my head.

I have resisted when our neighbours called me their shaman because I offered love in times of crisis or grief, or when they arrived at my door with a health concern because their doctor retired and they didn’t know what they should do.

I have squirmed inwardly when gifted sacred tobacco because the gifter saw me as a healer.

I have pushed back inside when people have said I’m their personal naturopath – that they trust me to help them figure out natural solutions to the difficulties they’re facing and to help point them towards other paths when they’re needed.

I have said a simple but kinda uncomfortable “I’m glad I was able to help with what I know” when a new mom sighed with relief because we were able to troubleshoot breastfeeding problems that the professionals in their life missed.

I *have* finally allowed myself to say I’m an herbalist, but I usually qualify it with something like – ‘in the wise woman tradition’. Because intuition informs my work at least as much as academia does and I have black thumbs. Lol. I don’t have a garden. I’m not the herbalist who can walk you through the woods and identify all the plants and their uses. I would like to be one day. But I’m not now. I only recognize a few things in my own ‘yard’ and will need to start learning my new yard this Spring. I’m also not the herbalist who can cite the recognized active constituents of a given species and their effect on each bodily system off the top of my head.  But when someone comes to me and says “I’m struggling with X”, I can turn within and to my trusted books and say - - here’s a place you might want to start in supporting your body to heal itself. Because THAT I believe - - our bodies are made to heal themselves. All we need is already within.

I get asked questions daily about parenting – from newborns to teens – but I’m not a social worker or parent therapist etc.

I’m regularly asked for my insight on food and nutrition and intolerances and diets – but I’m not a nutritionist or dietician.

People seek my insight on major life decisions - but I'm not a life coach.

Women have come to me over the years and said “I HAVE a healthcare professional who is ensuring my medical needs are taken care of and that baby & I are safe – but YOU are my traditional midwife.” - I smile awkwardly and thank them for their trust and say that “midwife” is a protected legal term in Ontario and I DO NOT meet its criteria. I am not a healthcare professional. I am not trained or licensed or registered or equipped or any of those things that make an Ontario midwife an Ontario midwife. Ontario midwives have fought very hard for their role in the healthcare system and still do not have the respect or pay they deserve. Doing anything that could lead to someone in authority believing I am ‘practicing midwifery without a license’ could land me in heaps of legal trouble that I’m not interested in. I support a birthing persons right to choose who cares for them, but it can’t be my a** on the line doing it because I have a family in my own four walls who need me first. <3

I am not a doctor. I am not a midwife. And I am not a doula either. I’m not a naturopath or a shaman or a lactation consultant or a nutritionist or a clinical/master/certified herbalist or aromatherapist, or a social worker or therapist or life coach. Each of those fields have practitioners within them who are incredibly gifted and can offer amazing supports to people.  Being accredited in one of those fields shows the world that you have met the standard for your profession and as such get to use that term for yourself.

I am none of those things, and yet somehow I am a tiny piece of each of those things and more. I am my paternal Great Grandmother, who had a copy of “Zone Therapy” by William Fitzgerald (one of the early books that led to reflexology as we know it today), and who baked bread as a business to support her family through the Great Depression. I am my maternal grandmother, who drank greens and aloe juice decades before it was popular to drink greens. I am my aunt, giving birth alone under a tree in the heart of Senegal, West Africa. I am my mother, picking dandelion heads from the lawn to make into syrup, running her own business as a caterer, and who went back to school in her 50’s to pursue the career she had always wanted. I am my paternal Grandmother who, when she learned she was pregnant, put her foot down and told her husband, my grandfather, he was not welcome back in her bed until he quit smoking because it was a dirty habit, and who later traded her granddaughter’s Barbie dolls for other gifts because she didn’t want us thinking that’s what women actually looked like; who laboured while pregnant with my dad, restrained on a table and locked in a basement room of a British hospital because the nurses resented that she was with one of the few good British men not taken away by war; who would hold my Grandfather in her arms when flashbacks from his time in WW2 overtook him.

I am a birthkeeper – deeply committed to preserving the sacred nature of birth and earth. I am all the women who have gone before me. I am the men who have gone before me too. I am the sum total of my own life and of their lives.

And when you put allll the pieces together - - well I guess you could say that I'm a hedgewitch. Not because I am a devil-worshiper. lol. That's a myth put forward to suppress women who colour outside the lines.  But for centuries women who healed were called witches. Women who do what I do – outside convention, outside the ordered way – were ostrascised, vilified, and killed because they strained and stretched beyond the confines of who and what they were supposed to be.

In old England (England is where my family is rooted for as far back as has been traced), villages ended where the forest began, with a hedge marking the boundary between the two. Just beyond this hedge you would often find a woman living in a small cottage - she was a healer/herbalist, midwife (in the ancient sense, not the modern medical sense), and a spiritual advisor to her community. In later years these wise women, who tended to walk their own unique spiritual paths and often had a family of their own, were sometimes referred to as hedgewitches because their healing gifts and connections to the spiritual & natural worlds were not understood. They ‘rode the hedge’ between worlds.

These words - - birthkeeper, hedgewitch - - they still make me squirm too but in a different way now. They make me squirm because I’m still growing into a willingness to wear their mantle fully. ‘The powers that be’ are always watching and waiting – afraid of what would happen if too many of us stepped into our own power, and ready to squash rebellions in their infancy. A couple years ago I was straight up told by a social worker that if they caught wind of me working as a doula in a way they didn’t approve of (aka encouraging clients to make informed choices that are right for them; and if those informed choices on the part of the client led to an outcome the social worker considered problematic) that I would be investigated for negligence and abuse of my own children. THAT is the power our system has. That same social worker called everyone they could think of to tell them they should disassociate themselves from me. Thankfully those who know me best stood by me but those phone calls cost me a reputation I had spent over a decade building. All because I dared to (completely legally!) question the status quo.

I love birth. But I love my family more. I do hope that one day I’ll be able to regularly support women and families in their birthing spaces again but that time isn’t now and 2018 gave me time to understand and accept that.

I also love what I do at Hedgecraft Herbals and that’s the part of my business that I’m focused on growing these days. Having a dedicated work space here at our new home has helped immensely in my ability to get products made and shipped quickly. I am finding the joy in it again. Still, there is always the knowledge that herbal medicine is people’s medicine and that makes it subversive, outside the bounds of what is accepted by mainstream medicine and government agencies, so I grow forward with a bit of hesitation every time.

2018 was a year of understanding pieces. 2019 I imagine will be about seeing them start coming together in beautiful ways. 



  • tears. and smiles. and laughter. and resonance with your words. and I so fucking get it. thank you for inspiring me again.

    angela gallo on

  • What an incredible journey you’re on! I have referenced your site often

    Kira on

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